Bodyguard: episode 1 review

The pairing of Keeley Hawes’ fierce talents in front of the camera and Jed Mercurio’s gripping scripts is always a potent combination. It’s the sign of a sure-fire hit, but does Bodyguard, their latest collaboration continue their winning streak?

Mercurio has the habit of delivering killer openings and Bodyguard’s first episode is, perhaps, one of his best. Frontloading the action is a creative choice that pays off in spades, neatly establishing the shrewdness of no-nonsense policeman David Budd, the heightened terror climate in the UK, and the reasoning for Budd’s steep promotion. It’s meticulously done stuff with Mercurio’s script never skimping on details; the back-and-forth between Budd and the train conductor is gripping in its simplicity.

It’s worth acknowledging Anjli Mohindra’s excellent performance here; Nadia is a staggeringly difficult character to play but Mohindra elicits that perfect, appropriate balance of sympathy and fear. It’s a fine line to walk but Mercurio and Mohindra pitch this scene perfectly.

Dedicating 20 minutes of your first episode to one contained incident is bold enough on its own, but when it robs the audience of more Keeley Hawes, it’s a ballsy decision of huge proportions. Hawes is one of the best actors working in drama today and she makes it look effortless, so introducing her halfway through carries a tremendous amount of oomph.

It helps, then, that Hawes’ character is someone that likes a grand entrance. Julia Montague is a gleefully tart woman, the kind of brutally efficient politician adept at manipulating her image on TV and then readily torturing her staff when she’s finished. Hawes makes Montague an excellent villain, never tipping into cartoonish antagonism, reminding us, even in private, how Montague got to be the Home Secretary; she’s a fiendishly savvy, charismatic person.

For Hawes’ foil, Richard Madden, as David, is a great pick as Bodyguard’s leading man. His wide, curious face, chiselled jaw and permanently furrowed brow fills the camera regularly, tracing every inch of Budd’s guilt as a veteran serving the most dangerous politician in the UK. Mercurio, of course, isn’t satisfied making David a conventional protagonist: he’s a deeply troubled man and while excellent at his job – the first 20 minutes assured us of that – he fails at a successful personal life.

It’s pretty harrowing to see a man who has given up so much be rejected by his family and it only adds to Budd’s levels of emotional instability. While Julia is very much the rogue agent here, there’s a question mark hanging over David’s head about where he is mentally and what that could ultimately entail. It creates a terrifically tense culture throughout the entire premiere.

Making predictions about a Jed Mercurio series is a fruitless endeavour. The man excels at subverting expectations and even though Julia’s endgame might seem obvious – to exacerbate fear in the UK and launch a coup for occupancy of Downing Street – there’s little telling where Bodyguard could go, and this is the type of series where we’re raring to find out.

Placing a physically and emotionally scarred war veteran against a warmongering Home Secretary is a pretty bold concept for a BBC One series and clarifying Montague’s political affiliations (“That was us plotting to build the Death Star,” she deadpans, pointing at a picture of her and David Cameron) is controversial enough in itself. Bodyguard is significantly anti-war at the moment and depending on how Julia’s leadership aspirations go (there’s the obvious real life parallel with our current Prime Minister and former Home Secretary), we’ll see further condemnations of venal, self-serving politicians.

Mercurio’s series is terrific thriller fodder, wrapping characteristically strong performances from Richard Madden and Keeley Hawes, and a grim, tense atmosphere around a timely story has scored everyone involved another hit. But then again, was there ever any doubt?

Fingers crossed Madden, Mercurio and Hawes stick the landing.

Bodyguard continues tomorrow night on BBC One at 9pm.